A sunny Saturday saw 5 of us squeezed into a Berlingo and heading up the much improved track as far as the Youth Hostel. A steep walk up the hillside beyond and we were soon embarking on a leisurely pootle down through 5 levels of the Coniston Coppermines, from Levers Water down to the Hospital Level.
As usual, not far inside the mine we took a quick detour to visit the Stemples of Doom! Apart from a few longer-than-entirely-comfortable steps, they’re not too bad to cross, and they are protected by a traverse line. Some people prefer not to look down the gaping void below though.
A short bit of easy passage and a couple of pitches soon brought us to the jewels in the crown of this particular mine: the Green Pool and the Blue Boulder, expertly photographed by Chris. The photos below show the colours as they actually are… not some artificially enhanced version!
Another short section of passage then leads to the final pitch down into the Hospital Level. This pitch always has a lot of loose rock at the top, so it was strictly one person moving at a time. Once down to the Hospital Level, it’s an easy journey back to the surface.
A satisfied crew then made their way down to the Black Bull for a celebratory pint, apart from Chris, who unfortunately had to head straight off.
Scott and I had fancied figuring out the Smallcleugh to Rampgill through-trip via Proud’s Sump for a while, and with Ray we decided to give it a try.
We headed up to Nenthead for a leisurely 11am start after coffees and muffins at the Alston services, and wandered up to Smallcleugh. Dropping the bags at Proud’s Sump we headed round the near flats for a quick round-trip. Before long we were back at the sump and kitting up for the descent on the in-situ ropes (which were in good nick).
At the bottom of the first drop were 2 routes on – Scott wasn’t liking the look of a traverse over a pit with the rope secured to rusting rails, and thankfully the route on was the other way, with a short crawl dropping to the second pitch. The in-situ rope for this was almost new and had a deviation in which left no rope rub. This pitch dropped eerily into a flat, with the shaft carrying on down but at this point we swung off into the flat. We then spent a good hour wandering round Proud’s Flats, there’s plenty of stuff to see in here.
After we were done we headed down the continuing aluminium ladder and into the running water of the Rampgill drainage level. From here on out it’s easy, following the water past plenty of bright colours and rotting ore chutes, until we hit a rope climb up that we recognised from a previous visit. Onwards for 20 minutes and we were at Whisky Bottle Junction. After a final stop to peer over the edge of the Brewery Shaft, we headed out into warm sunshine right next to the car.
Tom Calpin, Scott Nixon, Bob Cattley, Tim Donovan, John Forder, Miranda Forder, Pete Blamire
A pretty damp day, perfect for a mine. I’d planned a complete through-trip from the top open stopes through to the bottom level, so we all blindly slogged up the hill in kits with rope (this was a new trip to us, although Bob and I had been in the bottom level before). But on reaching the stope, we realised that mine explorers’ bolting is somewhat different to us entitled cavers – they were just raw bolts, you’re expected to bring your own hangers! In a strop we rigged back to some sort of boulders behind the hole as a backup, and Scott rigged the pipe bridging the stope for the main hang. But…disaster. We dropped the rope down and it was still falling at full speed when it went taut – the rope was probably too short, given that we’d used a bunch of it on backing up to a natural.
Trip ruined! Ah well, we slunk back down the hillside to the bottom level, stripped off our kits and left them inside the locked gate, and went for a thorough explore of the bottom level instead. First we headed up the Harding vein to check out all the hoppers, crosscuts, and past the blockage to the far end of the vein, where we found the ladders leading up to the stopes from the through-trip. At this point, Bob’s CO2 meter started getting tetchy and we called off the 8 ladder climb with Miranda partway up. We headed back around the bypass to the collapse and the meter got even more tetchy, beeping loudly to tell us to get a move on.
Next we headed up the Wilson vein, with quick stops to check out minerals, leftovers and to post Scott up into a creaking manway up a ladder. Outward we headed to driving rain covered in arsenic mud and the first appalling car changing session of the winter season. Good times 🙂
We all made the long drive in a timely fashion and by 11.30am, we were heading up through the old mine buildings towards the Smallcleugh mine entrance leaving Emma, who had sustained a double ankle injury in a fight with the bottom stair of a spiral staircase, to her own devices in the car park. On the way, Andy managed to persuade some unsuspecting visitors to join one of the mine society’s Open Day trips and we took the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the volunteers from the Mine Conservation Society and to bag our cake choices for our return. We were also advised to avoid Luke Hall’s sump as the metalwork had collapsed and the walls were in danger of joining the metalwork.
Smallcleugh horse level was followed through to Smallcleugh Flats. (I thought we were Wheel Flats & promptly turned everyone westward along a passage that led directly to Luke Hall’s Sump!) Phil continued along the main passage and discovered a sign hailing entry to Wheel Flats and so we continued without further ado to the infamous Ballroom Flats. The main mineral in evidence was galena—as you would suspect in a lead mine. The arched passages, handcrafted by mine workers, were quite spectacular and large enough to only require limited stooping (except in areas of collapse), and the water was rarely over ankle deep—so a comfortable start to our journey.
After Ballroom Flats and a Darren photo shoot, the size of passage decreased to a belly wriggle where crawling in the roofs of arched passages was necessitated due to infill. Once more we encountered Luke Hall’s sump and thereafter we peered expectantly into each sump looking for the ‘only rigged sump on that level’. A 17m descent down a tube brought you out on the edge of Proud’s Flats where a slight swing was needed to reach secure ground. We all investigated the Flats and the 3 obvious passages, discovering wheels, shovels, an almost entire carriage and an ammunitions box.
A ladder had been installed the previous week to replace the final rope pitch and henceforth the water was followed over a good kilometre of passage in Rampgill mine to exit in the car park. The formations and mineralisation on this long section of passage were magnificent and put the Painters Palette to shame. (The collection of bottles at Whiskey Bottle Junction was something to be admired as well). The final wow factor was the Brewery Shaft, just over 100m deep.
A trip taking around 3h20 was ended splendidly with homemade cake and a cup of tea for the whole team (including Emma) with the Mine Society. Andy found a contact who was willing to open the Brewery Shaft for a future KCC trip and, lured by cake, we started to plan a 2 day excursion to coincide with a future Open Day….the potential agenda comprising a longer through trip on the Saturday and a descent of the 105m pitch, ascent to Rampgill and exit via Smallcleugh on the Sunday. Unfortunately, it does seem that bunkhouse accommodation at the mines is not available on the Open Day weekends so we will have to rethink potential dates. If interested in this possible excursion, please get in touch.
It would seem useful to remind club members that mine artefacts (as with natural formations in caves) should be treated with respect. They definitely cannot be replaced once damaged/destroyed and we are very fortunate to be able to go underground to see implements in positions where they were once used.
A great Christmas “Do”, a trip to Wet Grooves mine followed by great company and food. Thanks to Helen and Andy for leading the mine trip and for the use of Hardraw Old School Bunk House
Wet Grooves mine is not as unpleasant as the name might imply and when we visited it was dry as a bone until the lowest level. There is an interesting climb down a cork-screw shaft but care is needed as it is loose in places. There are a few side passages and short loops to explore and there is plenty of geological interest.